A Requiem for the Black Intelligentsia

[Editor’s Note: In light of the debates centered on the heated exchange between Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West (here). I’ve asked my man Joshua Lazard aka Uppity Negro to weigh in. Frankly, I’m tired of the activist vs. intelligentsia narrative that suggests they’re mutually exclusive.]

by Uppity Negro

Mourners file into New Mount St. Nevermind Missionary Baptist Church to funeralize Black Intelligentsia.  The public had endured a long painful and debilitating disease close to twenty years.  Maybe more.  The mourners pack into the church on a hot, sultry day and even with the air conditioning on full blast, it does nothing for the swelling crowd.  Women have produced church fans donning images of Martin Luther King and Beck & Sons Funeral home barely moving the stagnant air that has fallen on the crowd.

This day has come nearly two years after the actual death date, however.  Through special court injunctions, the body was kept in the morgue for this extended period of time as the estate holders argued incessantly over what to do.  The mourners are in tip toe anticipation wait eagerly as the speaker mounts the pulpit.  The polished attire produces a silence only interrupted by the low drone of the forced air from an inadequate cooling system.

The speaker clears their throat before stepping into the rarefied space behind the microphone, looks up above the horizontal plane and begins to speak.

There was nothing more marvelous in the existence of the Negro culture than the men and women that took part of what came to be known as the Black Intelligentsia.  Although we were told to regard it from a distance, it still had the royal and noble sound of a certain trumpet beckoning one to listen.  This clarion call rang throughout the nation from its genesis until the moment that Death came and rescued it from a body beaten and battered by the winds of change and eroded by the winds of time; from a body located in the Ivory Towers of Academia, yet with a soul longing for the freedom it once had dwelling in the lands of the people.

Black Intelligentsia was preceded in Death by its mother Fannie Barrier Williams and its father W.E.B. DuBois.  You may ask how can such parents gave birth to such a noble institution?  They were able to create such a wondrous offspring because it was shaped in the crucible of the American postbellum apartheid.  Black Intelligentsia was birthed in 1895 when its father DuBois and his contemporary Booker T. Washington engaged in an exchange of words at the Atlanta Exposition displaying that the Negro can indeed produce a fundamental sound that goes far beyond the natural penetrating to the of the metaphysical.

Through its early years, Black Intelligentsia produced the “New Negro” and an Alain Locke being a voice of triumph in the wilderness that ushers in the Harlem Renaissance.  The Harlem Renaissance matches the artistic fervor with a spiritual essence giving forth to a certain sound that emerges from the annals of the soul.  Black Intelligentsia helps produce  Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Gwendolyn Brooks.   This sound, this noble sound, has the ability to infuse the lives of the Negro in America and provide the foundation of the modern Civil Rights movement.

In the middle years, Black Intelligentsia was able to summon the spirit of freedom by igniting the smoldering embers that had been doused at birth, but still burned eternally.  Under the burgeoning clouds of despair and doubt, the Black Intelligentsia moved forward keeping their eyes on the mount fixed upon them: their goal of equality and striving for a noble freedom for themselves and humanity.

Onward ever moving, a shining star, a prophet among humanity spoke to a people, standing in the tradition and sounding the call of a certain trumpet prophesying deliverance to an oppressed people.   A black shining prince among men was able to articulate the intricacies of existence to a people who had been told about an ignoble heritage; spoke to them when the center could not seem to hold, when things seemed to fall apart.  Through it all the purity that existed, that was birthed out of the Black Intelligentsia, spoke to the Negro telling them they were a proud people, a people who need not be ashamed.

Growing old, the Black Intelligentsia began to suffer from the disease of apathy.  Such a malady first begins to attack the mind and renders it unable to move forward.  Standing near the threshold, waiting to enter into a joy and peace unknown it hears a sound and a voice saying “Behold! I stand at the door and knock!”  However complacency has rendered it unable to answer the knock at midnight.

This spirit of intelligentsia comes from an enduring truth that has been before times was.  It has carried with it notion of a radical truth that knows no bounds and is a source of power to turn the world upside down.  It was there in the beginning when God moved upon the face of the waters.  But it did not stop there.  It was there when the pyramids of Egypt were fashioned from the clay mud from the banks of the mighty Nile River.  But it did not stop there.  It was there when the minds of Aristotle and Plato argued with one another over ontology, epistemology and eschatology and it was there when Paul of Tarsus stood in the Areopagus speaking to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of a God in whom we live move and have being.  But it did not stop there.  It traveled through the ages when Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses on the door at the Church at Wittenberg and a Reformation movement began.  But it did not stop there.  It permeated the mind, body and soul of Richard Allen at St. Georges Methodist church when he and other descendants of African slaves found an inner courage to protest an oppressive theology and sociology.  But it did not stop there.

It came to this point, this point here in our time, and was brought down by complacency.

Black Intelligentsia died on January 19, 2009 when it thought it had finally arrived.

It is survived by its children: neutral notions, detached dispositions, disengaged rhetoric, dispassionate appeals, expressionless faces, achromatic feelings, on-the-fence dealings, indistinguishable theologies, go along to get along mentalities, aloof attitudes, uncurious motives, withdrawn reaction, clinical reasonings, impersonal inclinations, poker-faced memories, neutered philosophies, uncommitted beliefs, inert movements, nonsubjective convictions, unreactive chemistries, noncombatant demeanors and uncharged possibilities.

I dare say, however, that the Black intelligentsia was birthed from a noble heritage and produced a certain sound that resonated with the heartstrings of the Negro.

Perhaps it would have survived if the Negro had been able to transform their detached dispositions into connected harmonies; their disengaged rhetoric into an antiphon of communal voices; their dispassionate appeal into a moving polyphony adorned with love; their expressionless faces into a physiognomy filled with grace and mercy.  If the Negro had been able to turn their achromatic feelings into a color palate that represents every color and creed; transform their indistinguishable theologies into insurmountable mercies that endure forever; change their go-along-to-get-along attitude into a pre-eminent embrace of doing what is right even if it costs; transform their aloof attitudes into a wellspring of engaged awareness that requires each other to do better because we know better.  Had the Negro attempted to transform their uncurious motives into indescribable inclinations that take advantage of this day and this moment to do something about it; to change their withdrawn reactions into incomprehensible actions that do something rather than sit around waiting to be asked; to change their clinical reasoning into one that moves beyond the veil into passion and care for one another; to change their impersonal ideals into familial thoughts that fully accepts being in relation to one another.

Black intelligentsia could have survived if the Negro had taken their poker-faced memories and created a new world with new recollections where people cared and had an opinion; if they changed their neutered philosophies into logical thoughts, and ideas that are reattached with the hope of a better day to come; taken their uncommitted beliefs and transformed them into concretized testimonies about effecting positive change in a world that seems not to care; changed their inert movements into tangible actions; their nonsubjective convictions and transmogrified them into a biased witness that declares “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”; transform their unreactive chemistries into ions and particles and elements of motion creating reactions and explosions all around.

But alas, here lies Black Intelligentsia, silenced by apathy and complacency.

Undertaker, claim the body.  Choir sing.

As the mourners file passed the casket for the final viewing those in the back of the queue notice many are getting the vapors and requiring assistance as they walk past, buckling at the knees and having to be escorted out of the sanctuary.  Some still have an inured appearance.  

Once the second to the last person prepares to view the body, they look over the edge of the bier and look and stare into a familiar face, produced by a reflection of themselves, looking into a mirror.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL